The key problem with the driving range is that many non-golfers associate them as a bit of fun with the mates – laughing as you all attempt to smash that driver as far as you can. I was guilty of it, and I still enjoy going to the range with my friends for a bit of fun.
However, once you become serious about golf, then the driving range can be the key to vastly improving your game over time. But, you need to spend your time there effectively.
When I first started to play golf, I would go to the range, get 100 balls, and just hit them and hope that some sort of magical improvement would happen. Now, sure, especially as a beginner there is some element of an improvement found by simply getting any practice in. When you’re first starting, simply getting the hand-eye-coordination right to be able to hit the ball cleanly even 50% of the time is key.
So, in this post, I am going to give some of my core tips for improving your golf game down at the driving range.
I was very guilty of this in my first 6 months of golf (and honestly, sometimes I’m still guilty). But, you really need to warm up. The majority of my golfing injuries have occurred when I decided to skip over doing a stretch at the start of the game or practice session.
Usually what I will do is grab my 5-iron and use it to stretch out my shoulders and my back fully before I even attempt a golf swing (similar to the below image). I will usually do this for a good 30 seconds to a minute, until I feel as though my muscles are nice and loose. I tend to do this before I have even picked up the balls for my session – as I know if I feel any little niggles in my back, then I will normally just go home. It isn’t worth it to me being out of golf for a month treating a back injury just for 45 minutes of fun at the range.
On top of doing your stretching, the first club you should grab is your pitching wedge. Take 5 balls, and just try and hit them straight and clean. Don’t try and hit them as hard as you can. You just want to wake up the specific muscles which are going to be used during your session at the range, and make sure they don’t go into shock if you were to try and smash your driver 300 yards on your first hit.
One Thing at a Time at the Driving Range
I will always go to the range and focus on one specific thing. Only you can decide the best approach here. You could be a bit general and say you want to focus on your iron play. Or you could be super specific and try and focus on distance control of your longer irons. The choice is yours here, but make sure you go to the range with a purpose, otherwise you can quickly slip into hitting balls with no thought process or improvement in mind.
For example, lately, I have really been focusing on my ability to approach the green with my irons. So, shots within 160 yards where the goal is to get the ball as close to the hole as possible from the fairway. Luckily we have a TopTracer system at my local range, and this has something called “Approach Game”. The premise of this is it will set you up with 9 random shots on a golf course at varying distances. The usual one I play ranges these distances anywhere from 160 yards to a very short 55 yard up and down.
By utilising the Approach Game, I am able to really focus on my distance control, and shot shape. The TopTracer system will bring hazards into the equation, such as bunkers, trees and water – therefore it makes the practice session a little more real. For example, one of the Approach Game courses I often play has a 160 yard slight dogleg left around a lake, which is my arch-nemesis, as if I ever miss-hit a shot, it is generally curving left. But! It is great practice! and it adds an element of tracking your progress, as it gives you a score based on how well you did. So, you can easily see if you’re improving over time or not.
Not everyone has a TopTracer system at their local range (but I would recommend finding one locally). So, most ranges will have distance marked flags on the grass in front of you. So, what I would do, is use these as targets depending on your goal for the day. If your goal is hitting controlled short-irons. Then, look at the 50 yard flag, and try to get as many balls as possible onto the base of the flag. You get the idea!
Utilise your Swing Routine at the Driving Range
Golfers may take one or two practice swings, and then line up their shot, and only then will they go to hit the ball. The range should be no different. Your specific swing routine is your own preference, but make sure you have one. Creating that repetition and muscle-memory will improve your consistency at the range and the golf course.
My personal routine is to do one or two practice swings, until I perfectly “kiss” the ground with my club. If this happens on my first practice swing, I will move on. I then stand behind the ball, and find a key reference point behind the target. Often, this is a tree which is perfectly in line with the flag. I then mentally draw a line from the tree to a spot just before my ball, and use that as a reference. The reason for this is it is far easier to aim for a target one-foot ahead of the ball, rather than one that is 160 yards away. Then, I step up to the ball, aim at my reference point, and complete my golf shot.
Partially the benefit of having a Swing Routine at the range is because it will slow you down. It is very easy to start smashing balls every 10 seconds while at the range, and that is just an easy way to become fatigued and/or injured quickly. If you think about it, when going round the golf course you’re walking between shots, and if you’re playing with others, you have rest times between their shots. This allows your muscles (and mind) time to relax. Golf is surprisingly mentally draining (especially when you’re not playing well). Having a slow pace at the range is key to making sure you’re in top form and making improvements in your game.
Change your target
As I mentioned before, I utilise the Approach Challenge on my TopTracer system for the most part, which changes the targets for me. However, if you don’t have this, then I would definitely recommend switching it up every few shots. Not just in distance, but actually where you’re aiming. Try hitting the flags on the left, then the centre, then the right. Switch clubs every other shot. The problem with hitting a 9-iron for your whole session is you become too accustomed to it, and when it comes to hitting a 5-iron, you end up out of your comfort zone. As they say, variety is the spice of life, and in golf, keeping flexible with your practice is always a good thing.
When you’re out on the golf course, the chances of you being dead in the centre of the fairway, aiming at the same flag 150-yards away is slim to none. Your distance requirements will forever change, and sometimes you’ll be aiming left, or right, or round obstacles. Keep that in mind when you’re at the range, and try to make your practice session as realistic as possible to being on the actual golf course.